Monday, October 6, 2008

Bus accident, and what YOU can do to avoid them

By now, the entire US of A have heard about this accident involving a bus in Williams, California. To summarize... a bus driver, first day on the job, flipped his bus, killing the owner and 7 other passengers, seriously injuring himself and dozens of other passengers. There were warning signs that this group never understood, but those of us in the industry knew to look for.

First of all, the bus was an ex-Greyhound, but with the words Greyhound removed. However, the vinyl had sat on the paint so long (the bus, judging by the model, is likely a MC-9 or MC-12, which make them about 20 years old, if not older) that the words look like they are still there. The original red and blue stripes were never removed. Yet we have learned that the bus was from "Cobb's Bus Service".

WARNING SIGN: bus with very old markings / doesn't match bus company name

Any bus company would PROUDLY display its own name to the world, except those that specialize in "discreet" transportation. So if you ran into a bus that has NO NAME , or a clearly WRONG name (obviously Greyhound is NOT Cobb's Bus Service), esp. a beat-up old bus like it came out of an old movie set or a junkyard, warning bells should be going off in your head.

There is one exception: in the industry it is common to "subcharter" someone else's bus to do a job. For example, you order a bus through A. A actually doesn't have a bus for you, but A knows that B has a bus available, so A takes the order, but actually subcharters B's bus and send it to you. This is very easy to confirm: call up A's dispatcher or whoever's in charge and ask him to verify that so-and-so was subchartered for your job. In fact, you may be able to specify that you must be informed if your job was subchartered to someone else, or you don't allow subcharter. Just make sure you specify it ahead of time.

Second item... the bus has "invalid plates and other ID info". Every bus in California (and in fact, the entire US of A) is required to have proper DOT approved side letters that displays the DOT and MC registration numbers. In CA, it's also needed to display the business name, home city, and the CA PUC Charter Party number (TCP). All of these information are easily available online for anyone to find and verify.

WARNING SIGN: improper/invalid side numbers, esp. TCP (CA PUC) and DOT

Look up something at the DOT FMCSA SafeStat Website

Look up something at the CA PUC Website

Thus, if you ordered a bus from Company A, the DOT or TCP numbers that you can look up better match. Or else, you better find out if this bus was subchartered or not, and demand to see THAT company's liability and accident insurance certificate before you depart.

If you don't have access to a computer, you can call the CA PUC hotline to either check if that company is legally operating in CA, or to even make a complaint.

Third, a warning sign is when the driver obviously not know what he's doing. According to eyewitnesses on the bus, the owner (who died in the crash) was talking to the driver all the time, giving him instructions and so on. Where there is nothing prohibiting passengers from talking to the driver, logically this should be minimized, and a bus coordinator should be onboard to deal with the passengers.

WARNING SIGN: some older man keep talking to the driver, who doesn't seem to know what he's doing

One other warning point... according to the map, the driver is NOT on the main highway, which is the fastest route. Usually, you go straight north on the freeway to Williams, then turn east into Colusa. This bus was on a LOCAL ROAD east of the freeway. Was it avoiding a checkpoint, taking a shortcut, or did the driver took the wrong exit?

WARNING SIGN: Driver exit not at normal exit, or cut lane at last second (as if he forgot to exit), or had to make U-turn to get back on route (signs of unfamiliarity)

Next entry, we'll discuss what it takes to be a commercial passenger driver, (i.e. bus driver) in the US, and why there are no seatbelts in the buses.

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